Cancer therapy researcher wins first place at the 2023 Falling Walls Lab Brisbane

10 August 2023

Dr Emma-Anne Karlsen is completing her General Surgery training at the Mater Hospital Brisbane while studying her PhD with The University of Queensland Frazer Institute Simpson Lab.

At the Falling Walls Lab Brisbane event in late July, she presented her research which focuses on repurposing a low-cost and pre-existing drug to help expensive anti-cancer treatments, monoclonal antibodies, work more effectively.

The competition was in partnership with Study Queensland, where 8 researchers from across 3 Queensland universities presented on topics from food sovereignty to aquaculture. Dr Karlsen came in first place followed by two UQ researchers. The top three finalists will be travelling to Canberra in September to compete at the national finals.

Dr Karlsen is passionate about what improved cancer therapies will mean for her patients and is excited about this research for several reasons.

“Firstly, if we’re successful, we can significantly improve the standard of care for our patients with cancer in Australia.”

“Secondly, creating new medications can cost millions of dollars and can have a significant environmental impact. Instead, our solution involves reaching into our own pharmacies and repurposing a cheap medication to improve the monoclonal antibodies that we already have.”

Established 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Falling Walls is a global event dedicated to supporting science and the humanities. Innovative minds from across the world come together to discuss global challenges and their innovative solutions.

Dr Karlsen said the Falling Walls mission to “stand for the freedom of thought and scientific research, and for making ground-breaking ideas accessible to society” guides both her science and clinical practice, and attracted her to participate in the competition.

“So often in science we can be pigeonholed into our faculty and rarely get the chance to engage with other perspectives. This allows everyone, from diverse academic and cultural backgrounds to come together and discuss the problems that we’re individually trying to tackle.”

“This event, in particular, was exceptional at creating an immediate network and community with like-minded researchers, all of whom were so passionate about translational and accessible science.”

Dr Karlsen said it will be a privilege to present at the national finals in Canberra among the top finalist from across Australia.

“It’s such an honour to get the opportunity to present at the Australian Academy of Science and the Shine Dome is such an architecturally beautiful building.”



Falling Walls Lab Brisbane winners

First place
Dr Emma-Anne Karlsen
The University of Queensland
Breaking the wall of cancer therapy

Second place
Hemanshi Galaiya
The University of Queensland
Breaking the wall of inequitable education

Third place

Sera Susan Jacob
The University of Queensland
Breaking the wall of food sovereignty

People's choice
Dr Jovanna Nathalie Cervantes Guzman
Queensland University of Technology
Breaking the wall of women entrepreneurship in bio & medtech